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If you have visited here before, you know that one of my goals is to rescue and record family recipes - many of which are Hungarian.

Meanwhile, I keep getting distracted by new ideas, and always, always by Italian Cookies. How have I not known about Zaleti? And how to explain being suddenly bombarded by the recipe - David Lebovitz, Martha Stewart... They kept filling my TV screen and/or Inbox with this cookie!

No surprise, resistance was futile and I had to make them right away - and have now made them more than once! Because I was being a bit spontaneous, I went with Martha's recipe that used cold butter - oh - and almond liqueur.

Don't forget that the Kingdom of Italy (1871) did not become a republic until after WWII in 1946 - so "Italy" has not yet marked it's first centenary. This may in part explain why there are so many variations in food names and precise recipes. Unlike some versions that produce a simple round cookie, I like the shape of these and the sprinkling of coarse sugar.

Variously referred to as Zaeti, Zaleti, Xaleti, and Xaeti, these cookies are considered Venetian (love Venice...) and were popular in poor families who tended to have the ingredients - cornmeal being the main one. In fact the cookie name is linked to their word for "yellow" - the colour of cornmeal.

We just celebrated Canada Day, and although it may seem unpatriotic, I find two of our quintessential sweets - Nanaimo Bars and Butter Tarts a bit too sweet.

Zaleti are not too sweet. They have great texture from the cornmeal - and they're Italian! Bet you can't eat just one!


Getting Ready:

  • soak currants in almond liqueur (e.g. Amaretto) at least 30 minutes before
  • measure / mix dry ingredients
  • bring two eggs to room temperature, reserve one egg white for later
  • prep zest from one lemon
  • cut cold butter the butter into pieces - it will be cold when used
  • line two cookie sheets with parchment
  • preheat the oven to 350 F
  • decide if you're going to do all or some of the steps using a food processor (more below)

2/3 cup dried currants
2 TB almond liqueur

In a small bowl, soak the currants in the almond liqueur until the fruit is plump. Do this at least 30 minutes before they're needed. I did it for even longer. All the liqueur was soaked up, but even if it wasn't, add it all to the the dough when the moment to do this comes. (Variation - have seen some recipes that use grappa instead of almond liqueur.)

1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk (reserve egg white for egg wash)
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Whisk together the egg and the egg yolk, lemon zest, and vanilla. 

Food processor - yes or no? The classic way to make the dough is to cut the cold butter into the dry mixture by hand, using a pastry cutter; then adding the wet ingredients and working it into a dough by hand. I have an inexplicable dislike for that pastry cutter stage, so I tend to cut the butter into the dry mixture with a few pulses of a food processor. This works fine - and then you can do the rest by hand. Or... you could stick with the FP and add the egg mixture and pulse a few times until the dough begins to hold together. However, don't add the currants to the processor - they will get pulverized even with only a few pulses. Best to add the currants after you turn the dough onto the counter, and then be sure they are evenly distributed. So, decide for yourself if you are using the FP for none, one, or all stages.

1 cup quick-cooking cornmeal (not instant)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces


1-2 TB water if necessary

In a medium to large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or your favourite method, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until coarse crumbs form.

Once you have reached the coarse crumb stage, add the wet mixture and the currants.

Stir, or use your hands, to form this into a soft dough. Add 1-2 TB of water if necessary to help the dough come together.

I followed Martha's next step once, but not in successive bakes. Did not notice a difference. Martha's original recipe suggests to shape the dough into a flat square, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate 45 minutes or up to overnight. Mind you, her step means you could prep the dough the day before.

1 reserved egg white

coarse sanding sugar

Some choices here... Martha forms the dough into a square that is 1/2" thick and then cuts on the diagonal in one direction and across in the other direction to get the shapes pictured. Many Italian websites shape a portion of the dough into a log, flatten the log to about 1/2" and then cut diagonals. Both methods end up with little leftover bits which can be re-rolled into more cookies. (Or simply cut the log into slices - not as nice IMHO.) 

Place the cookies onto the parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 1 inch apart. (One more Martha step I did not do...  freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.)

Lightly beat the reserved egg white. Brush the tops of the cookies with egg white and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake in a 350 F oven, rotating halfway through, until lightly golden around edges, about 22 minutes. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Notes and Tips...

  • Cornmeal - the recipe calls for "quick-cooking" but not "instant" cornmeal. I could not find any easy explanations on this and so used the cornmeal brand I always buy (P.A.N.) Let me know if you have questions - cornmeal details can be a bit brain-hurting; e.g. yellow, vs. white; coarse, medium or find grind; is it the same as grits? polenta? eek! At the minimum, will stress that "polenta" is not an ingredient - it is a dish made from cornmeal.
  • Flour - use regular if that's all you have; unbleached is not chemically treated and has more protein
  • Sugar  - you can of course us regular granulated sugar - but sanding sugar looks nicer
  • For KB Recipe Attribution Practices please click here.

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